Truckers forced to detour around the closed Interstate 40 bridge between Arkansas and Tennessee should plan for about 60 more days of longer trips and added traffic congestion as the span over the Mississippi River is not expected to reopen until at least late July.
That was part of the message delivered Thursday, June 3, by state, local and industry officials who briefed Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg on the progress of repairs being made to the bridge that has been closed since May 11. A routine inspection found a major crack in a steel support beam on the 48-year-old, 19,535-foot-long bridge, which is a major connection for east/west freight travel.
The first phase of repairs was completed last week, making it safe for further construction. Tennessee Transportation Commissioner Clay Bright Thursday said the contractor hired to fix the bridge has ordered the materials to make repairs. They're expected to arrive late this month, according to Bright.
He said repair work could take into late July or early August.
During his visit, Buttigieg met with numerous elected and appointed officials, and members of the trucking industry. A recurring theme of their conversations was the need for infrastructure improvement, a hot -- but frustrating -- topic of conversation in Washington these days. President Biden has proposed the $1.7 trillion American Jobes Plan, which includes funds for roads and bridges. Republicans in Congress are pushing for a more modest plan. There also is disagreement on how to pay for any infrastructure work.
"The situation with this bridge may be a regional issue, but it is a national concern," said Buttigieg. "We want to make sure that national attention and resources are available to help the states and local authorities who are resolving this and working toward the safe reopening of the bridge."
Some 41,000 vehicles crossed the bridge in Memphis every day before it closed, about a third of them were trucks. Since the I-40 bridge was closed, traffic has been detoured to the Interstate 55 bridge. Delays are said to cost the trucking industry about $2.4 million a day, and have disrupted the working lives of truckers.
Arkansas Trucking Association President Shannon Newton told Buttigieg the closure on the de Soto has been difficult for some truck drivers. She said to avoid rush-hour congestion on the I-55 bridge, many drivers are working nights instead of days.
“What used to be a 6 a.m. to 6 p.m. has switched to 2 a.m. to 2 p.m. shift,” Newton said.